Birthday blues and red flag books

#1: Featuring a round-up of everything I wrote, read, viewed and thought worth sharing from August.

Don’t let the title fool you, I’m feeling far from blue. On the contrary, I’m excited for what the future holds. I feel more creative than ever, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this newsletter will evolve.

For those who don’t know, I’m a blogger/poet/playwright/fiction writer. I guess I’m now a copywriter, too, since starting my day job as Junior Publicity Manager for a small marketing company in Brentwood. But as the dream is to one day give up the day job, the less said about it here is probably for the best.

In these newsletters, I want to focus on my passions: reading and writing. You’ll find an overview of what I’ve written this month, what I’ve read, stuff I’ve watched (sometimes), and links to stuff I read online that I thought you might like, too.

If you’re reading this in your inbox, thanks for choosing to subscribe. If you’re not, hopefully I can convince you to change that by the time you’ve finished reading.


WRITING

Back in June, I learnt I was the winner of the Essex Book Festival’s Green Shoots Writing Competition. I had submitted a flash-fiction about an ancient deadly virus escaping the permafrost in a time when the ocean has swallowed most of the land.

Winning meant I got to have a 1:1 with a literary agent, and we discussed getting into the industry as well as the first 25(ish) pages of a novel. You read that right, I started writing a novel back in July.

The feedback was very positive and gave me a lot of questions to ponder. As such, writing has not progressed much this past month. I’m rethinking parts of what I’ve already written (for the better) and getting to know my world and characters better.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on blog content and a sci-fi story that is nowhere near as short as I had hoped it to be. Due to the personal nature of the story, I’m reluctant to share any details just yet, but when I do this newsletter will be the first place you hear about it.

That’s all my recent writing you can’t read (yet). Here’s a list of all the things I’ve written this month that you CAN find online to read:


READING

I wouldn’t date the same way I read: always having multiple books on the go, sneaking off with one whilst I leave another at home.

I’ve had a lot of books on the go this month. I started Amelia Horgan’s superb Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism back in July, which is a great entry point into theory that challenges the modern approach to work. It’s not as compulsively readable as David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, one of my favourite reads from last year, but it does a fantastic job in getting you to rethink our modern working culture.

However, before I finished Horgan’s slim book, I snuck off with Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. There’s little I could probably say that its glowing reputation doesn’t already, but I loved the style. Written as a series of letters, primarily to God, Celie’s voice is distinct and wrought with pain, and several emotional beats brought tears to my eyes.

Whilst waiting the 15 minutes after my second Pfizer jab, I started Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? A quintessential leftist text that I’ve seen quoted or mentioned at least once per week since I first heard about it early this year. Finally, I found out what all the fuss was about, and the fuss makes a lot of sense. Despite its long paragraphs like an academic textbook, it never reads like one. Fisher may not have coined the phrase “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” but his book pushes back against the idea that there is no alternative (TINA).

Currently, I have two books on the go. I have a little collection of short stories by Palestinian writer Nayrouz Qarmout, titled The Sea Cloak and Other Stories, and my friend Jordanna Jade’s third self-published fantasy novel, Choosing Divinity.

I’ll have more to say about each books’ content once I’ve finished them. Although, I will say that I’ve read the first two of Jordanna Jade’s books and enjoyed them. So I’d just like to take this moment in the newsletter to say you can buy her books from Amazon and find her on Twitter (@jordannajade01) and TikTok (@jordannajadeauthor).

I also got a bunch of new books for my birthday to add to my already-full bookshelf. One of which was Austin Kleon’s Keep Going, which is the third in a trilogy of books he’s published on being creative. I read it within a single day, and I could have easily read it all in a single sitting if life wasn’t so distracting.

Often categorised as self-help books, Kleon’s approach is one I find much more agreeable than the overwhelming number of self-help books out there. Rather than instruct you on how to be creative and lay blame at your feet if you fail, he tells you to take whatever advice resonates with you and leave the rest. He writes not as a guru imparting secret knowledge. Instead, he tells you what he wishes he could tell his younger self.


VIEWING

I finally got around to watching Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow and Bone, which I enjoyed a great deal once I made it past its first episode. Loki was my favourite TV show this month, though. All six episodes were well worth my time, and I was still met with several pleasant surprises despite having the ending spoiled for me.

If you’re a fan of adult animation, I’d recommend giving Solar Opposites on Disney+ a go—especially if, like me, you’ve found Rick and Morty’s fifth season underwhelming.

I’m currently enjoying watching Altered Carbon on Netflix (another TV show I’m late to). Although, choosing to watch it with my parents was not my best idea.

Speaking of being late, I finally watched Knives Out, and I cannot tell you how much I loved it from start to finish. Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand, which I also saw this month, is worth missing. Seriously, don’t bother.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve seen very little live entertainment. But I did spend my birthday at Colchester Pride and saw my friend Bekka Hudson return to the stage and perform a stand-up gig (follow her on Instagram @bekhudscomedy).

Also, despite coming out months ago, I finally watched Hbomberguy’s lengthy video taking on anti-vaxxers.


SHARING

Here are 10 things I read online this month that I thought were worth sharing:

  1. Rejection Erasure Poems

  2. What to do with your feelings — “Whenever you are out of ideas, there’s someone, somewhere, with bad ideas that need to be corrected. But you don’t necessarily have to talk about the bad ideas, or take them on directly, you can just articulate the good ideas that cancel them out.”

  3. How to prioritize your project ideas — “I wanted prioritizing side projects to feel as special and exciting as picking magic abilities in Dungeons [and] Dragons. Over the past few years, I’ve iterated on a system that makes it fun and rewarding to prioritize my project ideas, and it’s revolutionized my ability to make progress with my projects.”

  4. We need more novellas — “A novella is where the attention span of the author and the reader intersect. Novellas have the fundamentals of a novel but generally take less time to write and read. If a short book is good, people will fork over the same amount for it as a longer book.”

  5. The problem with millennial productivity books — “Rather than decentralising work, these books ask for even more of our lives to become work-centric – with every element, even downtime, functioning in the pursuit of making us work more effectively.”

  6. How Twitter can ruin a life — “One criticism above all got to her: that Fall must be a cis man, because no woman would ever write in the way she did. And because this criticism was so often leveled by cis women, Fall felt her gender dysphoria (the gap between her gender and her gender assigned at birth) increasing. In Fall’s story, Barb and Axis destroy the lives of people they cannot even see. Now, in a bitterly ironic twist, the same was happening to her.”

  7. Hilma Wolitzer lost her husband to COVID-19, and the new short story she wrote about it is an emotional read.

  8. The one where writing books is not really a good idea — “Many authors hope that securing a contract with a Big Four publishing house will provide more marketing and sell more copies of the book, but the reality is that traditional publishers are looking for a sure thing. They want an author who already has an existing platform and can guarantee an audience. And if the author has that, they might be better off going it alone.”

  9. The Unremarkable Emerald Fennell — “There is something quite gross about the fact that 7% tell the remaining 93% what to consume and how we should feel about it. That this 7% create stories about us ‘ordinary’ people and we pay them for that privilege.  And it’s gross that their privilege gives them access to opportunities out of reach for most creators. Sure there are bursaries, grants, prizes, that the less fortunate can apply for but they are kept only for the best of the best. When I say that mediocrity is not a victimless crime this is why.”

  10. NPR: 50 Favorite Sci-Fi And Fantasy Books Of The Past Decade

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Also, here are some tweets I liked this month that I thought you might like too:


That’s all for the first newsletter, folks! The next will arrive in your inbox at the end of next month. Until then, if you have any feedback or want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or email me at jwstammers@gmail.com.

If you haven’t yet subscribed but you enjoyed this newsletter then I’d be so grateful if you signed up.

Otherwise, I wish you all a good September! :)